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May you live in interesting times

March 24 2008 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

A lifetime ago I worked at SAP. It was the third largest software provider in the world. My boss, another friend and I hooked up with a few people from Intel and launched one of the first companies to tie ecommerce (the ability to buy something from a website) to an actual, real business (inventory, accounting, shipping, etc). Those were heady times. I remember hearing the CEO of Visa describing ecommerce as "the most important invention since the birth of the coin".

Virtually everything that was prophesied during that era came true. Ecommerce has become a hundreds of billion dollar category, etc.

I remember my boss, Bryan Plug, deliver a presentation and talk about the invention of the ice skate (he is from Canada) and segue his thoughts toward reflecting on the internet era in real time. He quoted a chinese proverb...

"may you live in interesting times"

宁为太平犬,不做乱世人... which more literally means "It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period"

Either way, the early days of the internet were interesting times and I believe we're about to be a people in a chaotic period.

Looking backward is easy, '95 - '02, especially the pre-bubble era when it felt more like a new world and less like a gold rush.

Looking forward requires a bit more extrapolation and culture forcasting. The more I think about it the more it's clear that we are about to see some major shifts... and yet I feel like I have to look pretty far forward to see the large-scale paradigm shift that needs to take place. Green may be today's hip accent but it needs to become our default personal operating system. I know that will happen (it's binary to me, we either align around sustainable principles or... we simply won't sustain our lifestyle and culture as we know it).

There are ample perspectives on this. The Wall Street Journal recently published the tome "New Limits to Growth Revive Malthusian Fears". Thomas Friedman (see vid on right sidebar of blog) and a gaggle of others have also written about this subject.

This graphic explains this visually, pay particular attention to the bar charts on the botton illustrating number of cars in China and India if they rise to our level of ownership.

The points I'm trying to get across in this blog are:

1. We WILL live in interesting times. The changes in globalization and tehnology have forever changed our global cultures. There is no going back. America may have won the cold war but it turns out the whole world has the same "American" dream we thought was limited to us.

2. Pandora's box is wide open. Everything is in motion. Geopolitical economies are jiggling like jello and will continue to wiggle up and down for a while. America's near monopoly on innovation is passing. We probably won't understand this baton pass until after the fact.
3. We must change our consumption habits. With water as the most valuable natural resource on the planet we cannot wash our driveways with clean drinking water. We can't water our plants with the pure gold that water really is. We don't have enough ntural resourves on the planet to sustain three countries (US, India and China) if all three live at our current rate of consumption

4. We can minimize the thud of hitting the wall if we make changes early.
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